No van for you.

I made the reservation in March. I had someone call the week before to confirm the reservation. Which they did.

And yet at the end of June, just five days before our youth group was schedule to leave on their mission trip, a gravely female voice from the rental company informed me, “We won’t have a van for you.”

“What do you mean? We have a reservation. We made the reservation months ago and you said we were all set.”

“All I know is that we won’t have a van.”

Great. The kids have been planning and saving up money for this trip for six months. And that is the best you can do for me? It’s not like, “OK, I’ll just try someone else.” There aren’t many places where you can rent a fifteen passenger van. And not at the peak of mission trip season. I know, the thirteen of scripture – Jesus and twelve disciples – got to their mission sites on foot. But our eleven kids and two leaders had to get from Palm Coast, FL to Chattanooga, TN. It was this Seinfeld episode in real life!

We had this problem five years ago. The same company claimed to not even have our reservation a week before departure. I had to shake the bushes to come up with a member’s minivan and another’s pickup truck. I swore I would never use this company again. Yet, I gave them another chance. And now I had to live with that decision.

My office manager got on the phone and you know what? Within half-an-hour, she had located a fifteen person van from another company. The words, “What are we going to do now, Lord” were barely out of our mouths. The pickup arrangements were more complicated, but we could have it in time for the kid’s trip.

As you can tell, though, the story isn’t over. I took one of our leaders down to a little airport where the van had been left on the top deck of a parking garage. When we drove through the airport, that garage was full and the ramp closed. So I dropped him, he scrambled up the stains, found the key lock box and was soon on his way with a van. It was Saturday, less than a day before the group’s scheduled departure. Yes. Thank you, Lord.

A few hours later, I got a call. “There’s only room for eleven people in the van.” “What? It’s a fifteen person van.” “Yes, but the back seat isn’t in it.” Great. I got on the phone and called the number they gave me for questions. The person fielding questions knew how to prep a van for rental, but not much more. “Uh, can you bring it by tomorrow?” “No. The group is leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

Deep breath. I need two more spaces. One of the leaders drive? No, that won’t work. Have one of the youth drive? That doesn’t sound legit. But one of them is over eighteen, has his own car… That was our eventual solution. He would drive himself and take a friend who’s mom said could ride along. They made it there safely and back, and faithfully served that community with other churches and youth.

One of the top three principles I had learned on mission trips to third-world countries is “be flexible.” Much of a trip won’t go according to plan. Times, people, places and equipment will be different than you expect. You better pray that God pours out that spiritual gift on your group, because you’re going to need it!

I won’t throw these van companies under the bus in this piece. There’s only two in Jacksonville, FL. You can figure out who they are.

“I’m going to have to come to church every week!”

Heard at confirmation class last night: “But Pastor, if I’m going to finish up my sermon reports this year, I’m going to have to go to church every week!” And yes, this comment was accompanied by a suitably horrified face, as if I had threatened to break their fingers.

Their comment wasn’t entirely correct. I pointed out that they needed ten more sermon reports, and that there were at least twenty-two more worship services between now and confirmation Sunday. For some reason, this did not provide them much comfort. They were still a bit disgusted.

The reason I require sermon reports is to stimulate worship attendance. I ask for twelve during the class which meets from September through April. For some reason, families had it in their head that their children could become confirmed members of the church without ever actually participating in the life of the congregation. This is actually the exact opposite of my goal: to equip them for a lifetime of involvement in the life of a congregation.

At the end of every sermon report, I leave a space for “What questions do you have about the sermon?” Ironically, the student who lamented going to church actually did a sermon report last week and wrote this question, “How can someone get closer to God and strengthen their faith?” Yes, I have an answer for them. It goes something like this: God gave you the gift of the church!

I wish I could connect some of these students and their families with those in our congregation who wish they could get to church. For any number of health and family reasons, they can’t be with us, and they would give anything to be able to come. They’d let someone break their fingers if they could come. Well, maybe. You know what I mean. What a contrast.

I’m not going to give up. I truly enjoy teaching this age group, we have a good time, and it keeps me young to hang out with the youth. The evil one keeps whispering, “Why bother?” But I hold on to the hope that maybe the brief time I have with them will be a seed that grows sometime in their life. They may not all get confirmed because some of them won’t actually do anything, but they will get the gospel each and every time I get to teach them. And that is powerful.

Trust, old marinara and wet dog.

wet dogAs I reflect on last night’s confirmation class, I can’t get a couple of the student’s comments out of my mind.

The first came in the context of discussing the eighth commandment. I asked, “Do you know anyone with a really bad reputation.” Everyone shook their head yes, but one added some detail. “Everyone knows this kid is a liar, a thief and dishonest. But I trust him.” Every head turned and stared. “No really, he has my back.” Interesting choice of friends.

The other came in response to the casual question, “So how’s school?” “Ugh, I hate culinary arts! The classroom smells like a combination of old marinara and wet dog.” I’m familiar with both smells, but never thought to combine them.

Teaching confirmation class for seventh and eighth graders (and this year, a few in high school), is a unique experience for me and the young people. Altogether we met about fifty times over two years, getting to know a lot about each other. I get to know them better than many of those who joined the congregation as adults. They also get to know me better than most who attend worship. We develop a unique bond during this time.

s-Market-MarinaraThat relationship means so much. They may not remember everything I taught them. But they will know they can talk to me when life begins to happen, everything from graduations to children and beyond.

 

Ten for ten

screen-shot-2017-10-17-at-5-06-39-pm.pngFor the first time this year, I had all ten of my confirmation class students together. Trust me, in a world where there is so much going on in the lives of our children and their families, this is nothing short of a miracle!

The students range in age from twelve to sixteen, from sixth grader to high school junior. They are all involved in other activities during the week, including but not limited to: band (three tubas and two clarinets), orchestra (violin), golf (at the state championship level; one young lady can drive 250 yds!), flag-football, boy scouts (one on the way to eagle), girl scouts, youth group, and future problem solving (with international competition experience). It’s a diverse group with interests that range from fried-chicken to robotics to “The Big Bang Theory” to their various pets.

It is such a dynamic time of life for them. Each is now just discovering their talents, passions and relationships as we learn how our Lord and faith affect every part of our lives. I’m fascinated. Our conversations take totally unexpected and bizarre directions every week. I was watching the video stream of last week’s class as we covered so many ideas about the third commandment and worship.

At one point, I told how some ancient civilizations made human sacrifices to appease their gods. That was their form of worship. One of the students shared that how they probably sacrificed the best looking people to please the gods, so it was better to be ugly and have ugly children. I said, “Imagine if that’s the way they did things in band?” After auditions, we’ll cut the best player from each section. By the end of the year, the band would sound horrible!

Some heard for the fist time that Jesus was Jewish. And that according to Old Testament law you weren’t allowed to eat shellfish. And how shellfish are bottom feeders, which is yukky. We discussed whether or not chickens have vocal chords (if not, how do they say, “bock?”) and whether or not it is OK to have a job that requires you to work seven days a week and words that my dog knows (bark, ruff and woof).

I’ve been teaching confirmation class for over thirty years, and it never gets old. Thank goodness for the catechism, laughter, and the joy of the Lord!

Look who showed up at the resource center!

When I walked into the Resource Center today I ran right into our church’s youth group. Working the intake desk were Alexandra, Abby, Grace, Nooch, McKelvey and Michael. In the backroom, where staples were sorted, bagged and distributed were Adam and Addison, Jake and Nick, Anna and Cole, Tess and Mackinzie, and Joshua. They had already been trained by our coordinator, Trish, were supervised by youth leaders Rob and Liv, and were assisted by some great parents: Dina, Beth, and Kelly. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone — please forgive me if I did.)

resource ctr

Some of the shelves were on the verge of empty, but there was enough food to send everyone home with a good week’s worth of non-perishables and bread. In our little corner of the post-hurricane world, I know it meant a lot to the clients.

I had stopped by to take a few pictures and encourage them in their ministry. I am so proud of their efforts to serve the congregation and community. Youth in ministry is a much better moniker than youth ministry. They are not the future of our church. They are the church right now.

I wonder if they understand the impact of their efforts? I know them all and I don’t think any of them have ever come home from school to an empty pantry or refrigerator. They may have lamented, “There’s nothing to eat!” But not because there wasn’t any food — just no Doritos or Oreos. Some of them had just gotten power restored. Others had helped clean up debris from yards this past week. All brought joy, laughter, and youthful energy with them. And for that I am thankful. It’s contagious, not just for me, but for the parents and clients, too.

When I was ten, twelve, or sixteen, I didn’t have a grasp on how much need there is in this world. Sometimes you can see it; they are sitting by the side of the road. Sometimes you can’t; they are sitting next to you in school. They don’t let on that the free lunch they get is their only meal that day. Or that they are living with a grandparent.

On the other hand, they also don’t judge. If someone comes in for food, they just need some food. Period. No thoughts of, “Why don’t they get a job?” or “They don’t look that hungry.” Just an eagerness to share what they have with someone else.

I always learn a lot from young people. That’s why I like hanging around them.

The Resource Center in Bunnell (1510 Old Moody Blvd.) is open during the week as well as Saturdays, providing food for Flagler County residents. Call 386.437.7373 for more information.